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Full text of "The Roman Catholic Bishop of Limerick and Clonfert on boycotting and the plan of campaign .."

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The Roman Catholic Bishops 
of Limerick and Clonfert 


Boycotting and the Plan of Campaign. 

The following passages occur in a letter addressed by the Most 
Rev. Dr. O'Dwyer. Catholic Bishop of Limerick, to the 
Freeman's Journal, 20th December, 1887 : — 

"When I am called a 'landlord bishop, 5 I may ask on what grounds. 
The implication is that as between the farmers and the landlords, for the 
last few years, I have taken the side of the landlords. That accusation 
is as false as the rest, and made at a moment of intense feeling on the 
part of the people, it is more malicious. I have never sided with the 
landlords. I have never yet said or written one word as against my 
people. My whole life as a priest has been spent in Limerick, and I 
confidently appeal to my fellow-citizens if they ever knew me to take one 
step against the farmers in the whole course of this agitation. At our last 
diocesan conference in the month of October, before I ever imagined 
that I should be dragged before the public in this way, I spoke to my 
priests, fully and confidentially, as to the course of action they should 
pursue. I told them that in my opinion they were bound by way of 
obligation now more than ever to stand by their people, and to show 
their sympathy in the difficulties of the situation. I said that I regarded 
the agitation in its substantial objects of self-government and the radical 
reform of the land system as legitimate and just in the main, and that so 
long as they were sought by methods in accordance with the law of God, 
that, so far from restraining the priests or the people, they had my 
heartiest approval. But, sir, as I am put to it, I will add what I added 
foi my priests. 1 had hoped that as regards those points on which my 
conscientious convictions were not in accord with those of others, equally 
and indeed better entitled to speak with authority, that I might have been 
allowed simply to remain silent. Where I could not go with the people 
I made up my mind at any rate not to join their enemies and mine, and 
therefore I resolved as long as I was allowed to do so simply to stand 
aside. Now 1 am compelled to speak and publish the views that I put 
before my clergy. While I gave my approval to the land agitation, I 
told them that there were certain methods connected with it that I con- 
sidered irreligious. I mentioned boycotting. I held that with an 
excitable people like ours that you cannot mark a man out to be ' boy- 
cotted ' without a terrible risk of crime, even the crime of murder, and 
therefore that however defensible theoretically, in practice it was always 
sinful. And I added that whatever might be thought of it amongst lay- 
men, that as between a priest and his own flock, whose salvation might 
depend on his sacred and confidential ministrations, it would be 



absolutely scandalous. I directed them then on no account to be parties 
to the 'boycotting' of any man. I am convinced also, although I had 
no need then to refer to it, that the 'Plan of Campaign 5 is unjust, and 
that in the last resource its only sanction is violent resistance to the law, 
\ observed, too, that arising out of the Plan of Campaign there has been 
developed a system of violent agitation, in which the people were being 
gradually drawn into circumstances in which collision between them and 
the armed forces of the Government would be inevitable, although there 
might be some difficulty in fixing the responsibility for the immediate out- 
break of violence. In all these and other similar ways I thought the 
guidance of the agitation was not only politically stupid, but morally 
wrong, and I therefore felt bound conscientiously to stand aloof from it. 
I appeal to my countrymen for my justification in that course. I do not 
ask any man to say I am right, but I ask any honest man who believes 
that without corrupt motive of any kind I came to the conviction that 
1 boycotting ' and the ' Plan of Campaign ' and violent resistance to the 
law were bad and sinful, what was I to do ? Was I to stifle my conscience 
for popularity ? Is the applause of the people the highest object in life ? 
Am I, a Catholic Bishop, to be allowed to form my own 
opinions, or must I suppress my own judgment as if I were 
the paid creature of a political organisation ? On the other hand, I 
could not, and I would not, join the enemies of the people. Even though 
the methods by which the people worked were wrong they were in a 
rough way, and looking at the whole thing largely, getting no more than 
justice. Was it not fair, then, for me to say to my priests — Go with your 
people ; stand between them and oppression ; never desert them, but at 
the same time keep yourselves, and as far as your influence goes keep 
your people within God's law ? That is the position which I have taken 
up. I am no intriguer. What I do, I do in the light of day, and no 
vituperation will, I trust, make me false to myself and to my sacred 

The following day, 21st December, 1887, the most Rev. Dr. 
Healy, Coadjutor Bishop of Clonfert, addressed the following 
to the Freeman : — 

" Sir,— I read your article and extract from the Pall Mall Gazette on 
Saturday. I have just now read the able letter of the Bishop of Limerick, 
with whom I had the honour of being bracketed. I have only time to say 
by telegraph what, however, is quite enough, that with every word of that 
letter, I entirely agree." 

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